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Portugal through after Brazil stalemate

By Nick Mulvenney

DURBAN (Reuters) - Portugal secured a place in the World Cup second round on Friday after an ugly 0-0 draw with Brazil in a match with seven first-half bookings in which cynicism and petulance triumphed over soccer.

The most highly-anticipated group stage encounter was less an exhibition of the beautiful game and more a reminder of their 1966 World Cup meeting when a 25-year-old Pele was kicked off the park by the Portuguese defense.

Brazil, who failed to score in a World Cup group match for the first time since they drew 0-0 with Spain in 1978, were already assured of going through after victories in their first two matches but the draw ensured they topped Group G.

Portugal needed a point to guarantee a berth in the last 16 whatever result Ivory Coast managed against North Korea in the other group match -- which the African side won 3-0 -- and secured it with a largely defensive performance.

"Today's the day to celebrate the fact that Portugal have qualified with a great deal of merit," said Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, who celebrated with high fives at the final whistle. "It was a just result."

SARTING RUNS

Cristiano Ronaldo managed a few darting runs at the Brazilian defense but was mostly an isolated, pouting figure and his solo attacks were mostly neutralized by the imposing Lucio.

Brazil, without the suspended Kaka and rested Robinho, displayed no shortage of muscle themselves and dominated possession for large parts of the match only to run into cul-de-sacs, or foul play, in the last third of the pitch.

"It was a difficult game," said Brazil coach Dunga. "The Portuguese team defended from the midfield backwards which made it very difficult to penetrate their defense. It was a very tough game right until the very end.

"There were quite a few fouls committed that made it difficult for us. But we had three or four goalscoring opportunities."

Three backflicks in the first 12 minutes had pointed to the feast of football the noisy and colorful 62,000 crowd had come to see but their hopes were soon blown away in a flurry of yellow cards.

Brazil striker Luis Fabiano had already gone into the book for a challenge on Pepe when his team mate Juan, aware that Ronaldo was sprinting through, used his hand to stop the ball.

Three Portuguese players raced over to suggest the referee book the Brazil defender, which Mexico's Benito Archundia duly did before turning the card to Portugal's Duda for the protests.

NASTY STAMP

The tone was set for another four cautions before halftime, including one for Portugal playmaker Tiago who dived in the box.

Both were booked but Dunga substituted his midfielder to prevent the vendetta escalating.

The best of the few chances of the half fell to Nilmar, who ghosted in behind the Portuguese defense to get on the end of Luis Fabiano's cross only for goalkeeper Eduardo to deflect his shot onto the post.

With the draw enough to meet the needs of both teams, some of the niggle disappeared from the game in the second half and, when the pacy Simao Sabrosa joined Ronaldo up front, Portugal grew into more of a threat.

A Ronaldo foray on the hour nearly produced a goal, a loose ball running to Raul Meireles who chose the outside of his natural right foot rather than his left to shoot and watched as Julio Cesar bravely saved his effort from about eight metres.

The Brazilians, hectored by an apoplectic Dunga from the sidelines, continued to press forward but Ramires's deflected shot in stoppage time was the only one to trouble Eduardo.

Five minutes of stoppage time was more than most in the stadium wanted and, when the final whistle blew, the teams trooped off the pitch to a chorus of boos.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)